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China 12 December 2003

Cyber-dissident sentenced to eight years in prison

Li Zhi was found guilty on 10 December of "inciting subversion of the state authority" and was sentenced to eight years in prison. The imposition of this particularly harsh sentence by the Dazhou Intermediate People’s Court in southwestern Sichuan province coincided with the arrival of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao on a visit to Canada. Frank Lu of the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said Li intended to appeal.

Reporters Without Borders called today for immediate release of cyber-dissident Li Zhi, who was charged on 3 September with "plotting against the state" for having contact with foreign-based dissidents through the Internet. He faces a 15-year prison sentence if convicted.

It demanded that all charges be dropped against the 32-year-old civil servant and said they violated both the Chinese constitution and the country’s international human rights commitments.

It said he was being targeted as part of a broader government crackdown that showed once more the complete official intolerance of online freedom of expression. Government surveillance of e-mail messages and discussion forums to track down regime dissidents was unacceptable, it added.

Li Zhi was arrested by state security police on 8 August at his home in Dazhou, in the southwestern province of Sichuan. The US-based organisation Human Rights in China said he had criticised the government in online forums and was thus regarded as being in touch with foreign-based opponents. Police seized his computer but provincial officials refused to say anything about the offending material.

The Internet has become a major target of the regime’s repression since three harsh laws governing it were adopted in 2000. Thirty cyber-dissidents are in prison throughout the country for expressing their opinions online.

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